By Rick Freeland
Developing a self-storage facility is an intensive undertaking. Your main goal is to obtain as much rentable square footage from your property as possible. To accomplish this, you'll need to maximize site coverage. If this is the ideal, then why worry about landscaping?
In most cases, you won't have a choice. Certain landscaping is required by local, state and sometimes federal regulations. But you'll also want to consider installing supplemental landscaping that can benefit you in various ways.
Required by Regulation
From the feds to your local jurisdiction, it seems everyone has a say in how a property is developed. Regulations on landscaping might include:
- Buffers for state waters: States require you to leave 25 feet of undisturbed vegetative buffer next to streams, wetlands or other waters that cross your property as protection from sediment infiltration during construction. Some jurisdictions tack on another 25 feet for even more protection.
- Zoning buffers: You may need to leave undisturbed buffers between your development and areas zoned for residential use. If natural vegetation within the buffer area is sparse, you'll more than likely have to enhance it with native or naturalized plants.
- Landscape strips: Most regulations require that 10 feet or wider dedicated landscape strips at front, side and rear setbacks be planted in a mixture of trees and shrubs.
- Parking-lot plantings: Regulations sometimes require that planting islands and other landscape areas be provided within parking lots.
- Erosion control: This includes temporary and/or permanent grassing and planting of constructed slopes and graded areas as protection against erosion.
- Tree replacement and protection: This means replacing trees removed during development by planting new trees onsite, through offsite mitigation or by paying a fee.
Once you've met your regulatory obligations, additional landscaping should provide substantial benefits. How can your project benefit through a thoughtful landscape design?
Aesthetics. How your community perceives your project will depend in part on how it looks. Use plants that complement your architecture. A simple, uncluttered planting scheme of three to five plant types is enough. Concentrate on your site's entrance experience by installing plantings at the base of any monument signage, along with color beds at your driveway entrance. Think all-season interest with a mixture of small deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs as well as perennials. Use accent plants or container gardens at your office entrance to welcome visitors with style.
Storm-water detention and water quality. Using bio-retention ponds, grassed swales, rain gardens or constructed wetlands planted with filtering vegetation in tandem with more conventional storm-water controls can save you money in infrastructure.
Environmental awareness. Low-maintenance natives grow well together to predictable sizes. They also don’t need much water except during establishment, don't require chemical fertilizers or commercial biocides, and are adapted to local conditions and bugs. Their leaves act as soil builders, weed suppressors and natural fertilizers.
Using suitable plants makes for less work, so you spend less on landscaping crews. Also, consider planting species that attract pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds and native bees. Avoid invasive species, such as nandina and Bradford pear.
Maintenance. Planting species native to your area where possible and using the right plants in the right place will cut down on the need for pruning, fertilization and watering, and substantially reduce your maintenance costs. If planting natives, you'll just need to supply water during the establishment period. This can be done economically using a drip-irrigation system outfitted with a smart controller.
Plants aren't the only component of landscaping. As you're planning your self-storage facility, put some thought into what type of hardscape components you'll need. Elements that balance your architecture may be the best solution:
- Walkways: Pedestrian circulation can be as simple as walks constructed using utilitarian color-stained concrete, enhanced using clay pavers with the color integrated into the clay, or even built from natural stone.
- Planting beds: Create raised beds using stacked rock planters or interlocking block. Whatever material you use should match or complement the architecture of your most visible building—more than likely your office.
- Signage: Monument signs look great faced with the same material you use in your office façade. Consider creating a signage theme, coordinating color, material and font types among the other signs serving the project.
- Entrances: A welcoming entry experience can go a long way toward making your customers feel at home. Provide a wide, winding walkway lined with small ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials. Install a wide stoop or porch before your office door. Complete the invitation by framing your door with lush planters and accenting windows with boxes filled to overflowing with seasonal plants.
A well-designed landscape can increase your project’s aesthetic value, create positive feelings within your community and provide a desirable working environment for employees. Landscapes that build on a perfect blend of plants and hardscape elements can enhance your facility's look and feel.
Planned commercial landscapes have been shown to produce high occupancy rates and increased rentals at storage facilities. A study by professor Joel Goldstein from the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington shows that landscape amenities result in the highest correlation with occupancy rates of any other architectural and urban-design variables. Landscapes can also add 14 percent to the resale of commercial buildings and speed sales by as much as six weeks. Purposefully designed landscapes also help retain valuable employees.
The Overall View
Whether required by regulatory authority or added for other purposes, a well-thought-out landscape design can contribute much. But there's a hidden benefit to landscaping that most developers overlook—marketing.
Any of the above techniques and other green-building practices you use can contribute extensively to how your community perceives your self-storage project. During the permitting process, media exposure regarding these efforts can help disarm project opponents and cement your position as a conscientious developer. These same tactics can help you fully lease your facility once it opens for business. Do it right, and landscaping can add value to your project for years to come.
Rick Freeland is a Georgia-based landscape architect with more than 30 years of experience in merging human places with natural spaces. His projects have included veterans' memorial parks, sports complexes, historical gardens, residential communities and commercial developments, including self-storage facilities. Learn more at www.rickfreelandla.com.